cover image Love and War in California

Love and War in California

Oakley Hall, . . St. Martin's, $24.95 (280pp) ISBN 978-0-312-35762-7

Hall's sure-handed latest (after 20-plus novels) features Payton Daltry. who is a junior at San Diego State when Pearl Harbor is bombed on December 7, 1941. His friends and elder brother, Richie, join the service; Payton attempts to finish his degree and cultivate a faltering love affair with the fair and wealthy Bonnie, pregnant by a former boyfriend. Payton cements their tie by helping her find an abortionist, while he also tries to reconcile his profound social consciousness with the jingoism of a nation adjusting to total war. In short order, his work with a socialist newspaper, the Brand , puts him, for the next two-thirds of the novel, in conflict with almost everyone he knows. (There are entertaining cameos by Erroll Flynn, Jack Warner and others.) The last 100 pages summarize with little sense of character or progression: the novel jumps ahead to 1944 with Payton as a GI invading France. Hall (Warlock ) glosses the combat experience wherein Payton's ideals are finally destroyed and his outlook shifts to fatalistic and melancholy acceptance. The story is eminently enjoyable for its splendid detail, but Payton's actions are seldom justified by his feelings, and as a narrator he never quite comes off the page. (Apr.)